Contribution to GTI Roundtable Global Government
An exchange on the essay Global Government Revisited

Sylvia Karlsson-Vinkhuyzen

There are good reasons why many remain skeptical about the idea of a world government that can take binding decisions, with a world parliament and a world court, as we are struggling with many failures of our national and local governments, and we can only imagine the problems being up-scaled. I am still convinced there will come a time when it becomes acceptable either out of good foresight for our fellow global citizens or out of necessity. Thus, even if it is difficult, we need to engage our own and others minds to explore possible design options long before this time has come.

I will focus my comments on three themes which all concern more the path to take here and now in the direction of Cabrera’s vision of global governance: “otherness” and community building, education, and finally accountability. Before I am finished, I hope to show how connected these themes are.

I agree with many of the ideas in Cabrera’s essay, and found some complementary comments particularly valuable such as the focus on building communities and the motivational values for the enterprise. I also agree with the need to change the fundamental economic model. Still, I find the analysis of the recent moves against integration limited when reacting only to the negative consequences of globalization. I see the more fundamental issues of nationalism and xenophobia as being important root causes. This can also be phrased as a widespread fear of “the other.” This is a difficult aspect to address—consider the long active struggles against racism in a country like the US. However, it lies at the very heart of community building, at whatever scale, whether it concerns how we welcome new neighbors from foreign countries, or how we consider the consequences of our own actions and those of our own cities or countries on citizens of other countries.

In this light, the focus on learning about universal consciousness or basic human rights, values, and responsibilities is so central. And if learning stands at the center, then someone also has to be engaged in teaching. This can be parents, school teachers, university professors, or anyone engaged with formal or non-formal educational processes from childhood to old age. There are wonderful initiatives in this direction around the world, by international organizations like UNESCO, or civil society organizations like the Earth Charter, faith-based organizations, etc. I do feel, however, that these initiatives tend to be isolated from the “big” discussions about global problems. Whenever I find myself in an academic meeting about global environmental problems, whether it is writing a global assessment or exploring global scenarios, the topic of education is largely absent. Why? Because the educators and other experts who know how we learn to develop empathy and even love for larger spheres than our own are usually not part of these meetings.

My last theme is about seeing the current status of global governance as half full rather than half empty and making use of this. The international community of states has become exceedingly good at adopting goals for what should be achieved in the future—in ten years, twenty-five years, thirty-five years, or longer. These goals are packaged in hard law treaties like the less than 2 degree target in the Paris Agreement, or in soft law documents like the Sustainable Development Goals in Agenda 2030. The goals are adopted as collective goals for the community of states, and they come with the expectation that countries will themselves identify their own contribution to achieving the global goals. The achievement of the global goals entirely depends on each country’s level of ambition. In addition, there are numerous international treaties on topics that concern the well-being of people and the planet. In a historical context with a quite young international community, this emerging unity of thought in world undertakings is a remarkable achievement. Yet we know that there is a rather poor track record of achieving such global goals or complying with the treaties. And when we talk about a future international court, we should consider that we have one in place already but only sixty-two states have accepted its full jurisdiction for cases they are involved in. Thus, we have sufficient legally binding (and for soft law morally binding) obligations for states to make the world a much better place—if they were adhered to.

My suggestion is thus to focus on strengthening the rule of international law. How? Through a variety of actors in multiple arenas holding states to account for the promises they have made (since they are reluctant to do so themselves within the international treaties). This can be, for example, through national institutions like parliaments, audit institutions, and courts and through (trans-)national civil society. If more and more people and organizations pay attention to states’ promises and engage in a continuous process of pressuring and helping governments to scale up their implementation, we would come a few steps further.1

So how is this linked to education of a universal consciousness and community building? On the one hand, we need many to care enough to engage in holding states to account. On the other hand, states have also obligated themselves to work on education. For example, in the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change that entered into force 1994, Article 6 reads that parties “shall Promote and facilitate...The development and implementation of educational and public awareness programs on climate change and its effects.” Now, if all parties had taken this obligation seriously, the Paris Agreement would have a much more solid foundation, as the publics in all those countries that need to identify their own ambition levels would have been much better informed about what is at stake. Twenty-five years is a new generation entering the public discourse.

In sum, there are many ways to strengthen the good elements of global governance that we have now. Over time, this can contribute to a culture that willingly accepts "real" binding international law that is enforceable, in the same way that we accept binding national laws for the protection of the social good in our communities.

1. Sylvia Karlsson-Vinkhuyzen, Maja Groff, Peter Tamás, Arthur Dahl, Marie Harder, and Graham Hassall, “Entry Into Force and Then? The Paris Agreement and State Accountability,” Climate Policy (July 2017): 1–7.

Sylvia Karlsson-Vinkhuyzen
Sylvia Karlsson-Vinkhuyzen is Associate Professor with the Public Administration and Policy Group of Wageningen University. She studies the effectiveness and legitimacy of global and multilevel sustainable development governance.

Cite as Sylvia Karlsson-Vinkhuyzen, contribution to GTI Roundtable "Global Government," Great Transition Initiative (October 2017),

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